Keeping Your Head

Keeping Your Head

She did it again. She raged at you. Pissed you off. And you reacted. You blew a gasket. Provided you didn’t hit her or assault her in any way, you can come out of this ok. Keeping your head during a divorce is tough, really tough.

Divorce is emotional, and emotions run wild during the divorce process. But, you can control the emotions and control the process if you can keep your head and your emotions in check. Knowing you’re going to chat with the soon to be Ex and be emotionally charged, there are some things you can do to keep a steady course while navigating the rough seas ahead.

Keeping Your Head

The first rule of keeping your cool: Learn to be here, now.

Ram Dass wrote a great book in the late sixties on the subject, with a basic premise: Be Here. Now. (That’s the title of the book, too).

We tend to live a great deal of our lives out while not really being in the moment. There are many tried and true clichés on the subject, though it boils down to some simple understanding about how we build up stress. Most stress in life really has almost nothing to do with what’s actually happening in the present moment, it has to do with how we apply outdated emotions that worked in the past to a current situation that only looks like something that has happened before. We do this really quickly, too, so it takes a minute to recognize in ourselves that we are not really staying present but responding from past built in automatic responses.

If you are stressed in the moment, look around and decide if there is an actual real threat in front of you (like the house on fire) or if you are just working yourself up over something that isn’t even happening (like an imagined conversation going badly with the ex, before you even picked up the phone).

This is what I mean by “be here, now” – Keeping your head by staying present in the moment when you are feeling stress. If you are focused on a past you can’t change or a future that hasn’t materialized, then you are anywhere but here. Learn to get back quickly.

A rubber band may help.

It might sound sort of silly, but it could be the best silliest thing you do for yourself. Heck, the kids wear bracelets everywhere these days so you could even consider it a fashion statement. Go get yourself a regular rubber band and put it on your wrist. You could even get a Live Strong bracelet or a pretty multi-colored rainbow band, whatever your preference. Just make sure it is strong and that you can snap it when you fiddle with it.

I’m pretty sure you can figure this part out already, but just in case you haven’t caught on yet: When you start getting upset, give your new bracelet a little snap instead. It should sting just enough to remind you that you are alive, in this body, here and now, and help bring you back into the present. Eventually, just feeling it on your wrist, or even glancing at it will have the same effect.

Think of Pavlov’s famous dog. That’s what we’re doing; we’re tricking our minds into associating a sensation with an action. The sensation is secondary to the act of thinking about your behavior in the moment and learning to take a small moment for reflection, which will allow you to make wiser choices. Eventually the simple thought of snapping the rubber band will replace the action of actually doing it, and the effect will be the same. You will no longer be living inside your mind and taking actions based on past experiences or imagined futures, but you will begin making better decisions based upon what is really happening in the moment. Learning to divert our attention when we start to feel anger (in this case, into the rubber band) gives us a better chance to take another tactic when we are feeling emotionally distressed.

In Neurolinguistic programming this is one of the most basic “pattern interrupters” we can create. Neurolinguistic programming (or NLP) is the science of the study of how language affects the central nervous system. NLP is pretty powerful stuff and if you’re not already familiar with its concepts, I certainly recommend looking into it. The idea behind the rubber band is easy; we get influenced by circumstance and shift into auto-drive and stop responding to the actual threat, instead using a predetermined set of reactions to handle it. Simply put: we get stuck and stop paying attention. The little sting interrupts that thought process and gives us a chance to think anew on the current dilemma and respond in a better way.

Finally, let me add that a rubber band, while certainly effective, is not the only way to create this pattern interrupting behavior we are looking for. Aldous Huxley wrote once of parrots on an island trained to say “Here and now, boys”. You could set a timer every ten minutes (or two hours, or twice a day, etc) to chime and remind you to pay attention. You could pay Kato to come over and attack you whenever you return home. You can be creative in your choices on how to resolve the problem of keeping yourself present when you are feeling angry.   \

Next week, we’ll look at more ideas for keeping your cool.

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A Gentleman’s Guide To Attending Your First Public Function Together…But Apart

A Gentleman’s Guide To Attending Your First Public Function Together…But Apart

Congratulations. You made it through your divorce. But at some point, you’re inevitably going to need the “Gentleman’s Guide” to attending your first function together post divorce. Sure, you show up to a function and discover – your Ex. It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. It’s painful. You don’t want to be there with her but then again, your attending this function to see old friends and acquaintances or maybe your own child at one of their functions.

While it’s perfectly normal to feel weird and uncomfortable, you need to suck it up and get through it.  Here are four easy tips to make the process as painless as possible.

The Gentleman’s Guide for the Divorced Man

Stay Classy. Plain and simple: stay classy. What does that mean? Keep it clean, keep it elegant. Look and feel your best, carry yourself in the best way possible.

Classy also means your demeanor. Even if you hate your ex or the person she may have brought along, staying classy means that no one should be able to read your mind based on your body language or the look on your face. Pull one from the politician playbook: you’re walking around shaking hands and kissing babies, being so very gracious. How will you know if you’ve succeeded? When you hear people sincerely say with a bit of amazement in their voice, “Wow, you look really good.”

Be The Bigger Man. Unless you lived in a cave prior to this outing, it’s highly likely that the rest of your social circle are also aware that this is your first venture out in public, together yet apart. It’s also highly likely that they feel tension and are dreading the possible negative outcomes. While some may root for a cat fight, others would rather avoid any and all drama. You have the ability to play to the second group by being the bigger man.

The Gentleman’s Guide would suggest this is a public function and neither of you are the focus of the attention. Any and all tension will be diffused by your taking the initiative, and approaching her with a greeting, a polite hello, a firm handshake to her guest perhaps, and then moving on. Then, wham, it’s over.

How will you know when you’ve succeeded? When you hear people, maybe even her companion, sincerely say with a bit of amazement in their voice, “Wow, he is a really cool guy.”

Stay Distant. Now that you’ve diffused any tension and gotten over the hump of the first greeting, you are going to keep things civil by simply keeping your distance. Find something else to do. Find other people to talk to you. The greetings have been made and that’s enough, this time. Maybe next time you can make small talk, but for now just leave well enough alone. Maintain a healthy distance. Don’t spend the duration rubbernecking to find out exactly where she is, simply trust your instincts. You were married to her, you can sense her whereabouts. Stay out of her force field and carry on as your usual, wonderful self. Keep in mind the reason you came to this function in the first place and make that your focus.

How will you know when you’ve succeeded? When you hear people sincerely say, “I’m so glad you came, I know this had to be awkward. Thank you for making the effort.”  Then, you’ll know the Gentleman’s Guide was right.

Stay Sober. This is easily the most important of all four points from the Gentleman’s Guide. Even if you ignore the other three final boarding calls, you will miss your flight entirely if you disregard this advice. A drink might very well help your nerves…but anything beyond that will not. Instead, it will demolish all of the other stuff we’ve talked about: instead of keeping it classy, you will be the drunk hot mess stumbling around with his clothes disheveled, spilling on yourself and quite likely on someone else; instead of being the bigger man and making a good impression, you will overstay, overplay and overspeak; instead of staying distant, you will hover, invade her space with either your person or your comments. You will decide that you have very important, very personal things to say and you will tell them to everyone who will listen and you will repeat them at greater volumes to those who won’t.

Just stay sober. This is the only time you will ever have to handle your first public function apart; do it like the  Gentleman’s Guide suggests and all future functions will be that much more enjoyable.

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Divorce: For All The Right Reasons

Divorce: For All The Right Reasons

Well, it’s that time of year when we all celebrate the coming of a new year and new opportunities. It’s also the time of year where we reflect on the past, and think about what has gone well, and what has not. And, then the dreaded thoughts start – Why can’t I have a partner who cares about me? And, if I divorce, will I divorce for all the right reasons.

These thoughts may lead to disenchantment with the marriage they forged with their partner many years ago. And, if the thought process continues unabated, thoughts of real divorce are not far behind. The thoughts of ending a marriage are devastating, for both parties. No one escapes the tragedy of divorce once the process starts.

Ending a marriage is one of the most devastating emotional hits a person takes in life. Truthfully, I think it’s worse than death. Death is a natural part of life and marriage; we make a vow to love each other ‘until death do us part’. Happily married couples will avoid even thinking about it except to draw up wills or buy life insurance. Divorce, on the other hand, isn’t natural. What person, genuinely in love, marries another human being with expectations of anything other than building a long and happy life together?

Down in the southern Bible Belt where I was raised, the bedrock belief that marriage is a sacred, forever thing was strongly instilled. D-i-v-o-r-c-e was not even spoken above a shameful whisper. If there were problems between a husband and wife, the solution was that you did whatever was necessary, working together to work it out. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that with the majority of relationships this kind of ‘stick with it’ approach still works. I’ve known couples who value their marriage and buckle down to do whatever needs to be done to restore the happy state of the union. Sometimes in today’s fast and disposable lifestyle it can just seems easier to toss out things that are less than perfect. I’ve seen love thrown away like this and it’s always sad, especially when children are involved. And then there are times when no amount of effort or determination can fix things.

So when do you divorce for all the right reasons?

As an immature 19 year-old, I and my infant son endured horrific abuse at the hands of my first husband. Why did I stay as long as I did? Because I was brought up to believe that a divorce was a straight ticket to hell and damnation. I was afraid I wasn’t up to the responsibility of raising myself and a child. I literally believed him when he said no man would ever want me again. And no one believed me when I tried to tell them what was going on. Not even the police.

Later I married again, this time to a man who, on the surface, appeared to be genuine, loving and kind. It took seven years to uncover that his sole motivation for the courtship and marriage was to gain for himself a manly, ‘good old boy’ veneer in order to survive and prosper in the homophobic atmosphere that was Texas in the last century. He wasn’t gay but transgendered. By marrying me and adopting my son, he could hide and protect his secret. No, he didn’t beat me but the scars he inflicted were just as deep and real.

I may be a woman but we certainly don’t own exclusive rights to victimhood. Statics are revealing a marked increase in the number of reported domestic violence cases against men. Women are finally achieving notorious equality as the perpetrators they’ve always been capable of being.

Male or female, physical, emotional and sexual abuse are the top reasons to run – not walk – away. These are issues that lead to divorce for all the right reasons. It may sound logical and obvious but where the heart is involved, it becomes incredibly easy to ignore wisdom and reason ourselves right into denial. You tell yourself that there’s no way that this person with whom you have shared so much would actually, intentionally hurt you in any way, shape, form or fashion. As a former crime reporter, I can tell you I heard this a lot. Unfortunately in many cases it was too late to hear it first hand.

When in doubt, walk out, and divorce for all the right reasons..

HelpGuide.Org is a non-profit resource guide.

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When You’re Home For The Holidays

When You’re Home For The Holidays

Ahhh, the Holidays. That glorious time of year that we get to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years with our loved ones. Or do we? That’s certainly questionable if you’re home for the holidays and having to negotiate with your Ex as to whether or not you’ll see the kids. It’s certainly reasonable that the kids will regard the custodial home as “their home”. That home is more typically with Mom as opposed to with Dad as the Family Court system has traditionally not been kind or understanding to Dads during the divorce process.

Regardless of who is the custodial parent, we must always understand that it’s not our needs that need to be addressed, but the needs and wants of our children.  Kids clearly have the holidays off from school, and they have family and friends that they want to share time with. Dads Want to be and need to be factored into the schedule, but when? Negotiations with the kids and with the Ex are in order if you want to have a reasonable opportunity to share valuable time with your kids.

Some divorced families stick to rigid scheduling around holidays that have either been agreed to previously, or are perhaps court ordered in a support stipulation agreement. While it can certainly ease tensions to have clearly defined dates set far ahead of time, I also believe it is valuable to think about having flexibility.

After our separation, the mother of my daughter and I actually did have a fairly complete support agreement to rely on when issues arose and used that as the final say, though in most circumstances we simply communicated effectively about what our needs were, what our child’s desires were, and sought to find resolutions among our choices that would best benefit our kid.

I recommend having at least one holiday a year that is “yours” and one holiday a year that is “hers” and work to keep those traditions in line as much as possible. I would also suggest that these holidays are not the big ones like Christmas and Easter (or Hanukkah and Pesach if you’re a Jewish family). Making permanent schedules for minor holidays can help to ease the tensions surrounding the major ones, and also ensures you will have the opportunity to have at least one special time of year with your kids, where you can instill traditions, knowledge and that cherished feeling of family togetherness.

Home for the Holidays This Year 

For example, Thanksgiving has always been a pretty big deal for mom’s side of the family. My daughter’s mother has a fairly large extended family with three great aunts and many cousins. One of the great aunts had made it a tradition, years before my daughter was born, that she would visit the rest of the family every Thanksgiving. Now, by turn, while my family isn’t really small, we also have not ever really had long standing Thanksgiving traditions. Of course I would love for my daughter to spend that holiday with me, however, in this situation, while I could easily have argued for my rights within the stipulation agreement, where it outlines we trade holidays yearly, the only real point in doing so would be to disrupt her family’s traditions and assert my own egotistical needs. Instead, when we first looked at holiday times, we decided since Thanksgiving was an important one for her family, mom would always have our daughter for Thanksgiving, and I would always have my daughter for Halloween (which happens to be one of my favorite holidays). From the time my daughter was old enough to trick or treat, until the year she graduated high school, we have had almost every Halloween together, and over that time we also established life long friend for her that joined us in our celebrations. Equally over that time, my daughter has enjoyed the richness of her mother’s traditions concerning Thanksgiving and will hopefully want to continue those into her adult life. Personally, I really look forward to a Halloween evening out with my adult daughter some year.

Over the course of my daughter’s life, there have certainly been one or two times when this has changed for various reasons (one year the great aunt was sick, and my sister in Texas asked if we could join them, so we switched it around that year), though for the most part, those holidays have become the least stressful of our planning year. My daughter came to expect Thanksgiving with mom and Halloween with dad, which also created ease for her.

Concerning the major winter and spring holiday breaks for schoolchildren, I would recommend a flexible approach that places emphasis on raising the children with the influence of both families over time. An “every other year” policy seems to be the best, at least from what I have seen.

Again, it is important to listen to your kids. Ask what they want concerning when they’ll be home for the holidays (once they are old enough to reason, of course) and do your best to accommodate.

Bottom line: When you’re going to be home for the holidays, work to plan far in advance with your ex. If you know that next spring break your side of the family is planning a reunion, don’t wait until three weeks from break to start asking your ex and your child how they feel about the vacation. Start negotiating as soon as you know.

My ex and I were pretty good at this, and we often had our daughter’s summer schedule worked out by late winter, which made long term planning much easier on us both, and gave our daughter the comfort and security of knowing where and when she would be while on school breaks far enough in advance to also make plans with other kids where she would be travelling (or staying at home).

Next time we’ll talk about handling scheduling conflicts towards fair resolution.

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Bonding With Your Child During Visitation

Bonding With Your Child During Visitation

When you get lemons, make lemonade. Ok, so you have a limited amount of time to spend with your child. Make the most of it when you can by bonding with your child.

Your visitation is limited by court order to every other weekend and Tuesday and Thursday. Cool, do all your chores and ‘must dos’ while he’s with his mom and have nothing to distract you when you’re with him. You might be surprised, but, you may have more time now to bond with him than ever before.

The keys words here are ‘quality time’. Bonding with your child is all about uninterrupted exchanges just between the two of you. Above all, always listen and ask his opinion. He has a voice and a lot to say.

Forget about trying to impress him.

Fancy places and expensive amusement parks are fine if you have the money for them. But, simple things like watching a movie or ball game on TV, while he’s sitting on your lap eating popcorn are more than a match.

Some ideas for bonding with your child:

  1. Teach him a sport and get him into it. Have his favorite snacks around the house. Don’t abuse this, but a little extra won’t hurt. Make this into a fun time that he will look forward to.
  2. Have a phone installed in his room so you can call him directly whenever you want.
  3. Take pics when the two of you are together and give them to him.
  4. When he is old enough, get him his own mobile phone.
  5. Volunteer to coach any of his sports teams.
  6. Agree to babysit when ever your ex needs you to.
  7. Don’t buy expensive gifts to impress, cheaper ones are just as appreciated
  8. Teach him sports, checkers, chess and  judo
  9. Play ball with him
  10. Read to him.
  11. Cook with him.

And, don’t ever complain about your ex or express hostility towards her and especially don’t ever yell at her in person or on the phone.

Lastly and most importantly, love him and show him your love. Studies have shown that in a lot of cases, the child is better of when the parents divorce, than when they stay together and argue all the time, especially when you’re bonding with your child

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Introducing Your New Partner To Your Kids

Introducing Your New Partner To Your Kids

Finding someone new to share your life with after a break-up is great. You’ve moved on, however hard it was, and now you’re ready to be in a relationship again. But what about your kids? How do you introduce your new partner to them and how do you ensure that everyone gets along?

The truth is, it won’t necessarily be quick and easy. But if you approach the situation carefully and thoughtfully, respecting everyone’s feelings, there’s every chance that bringing someone new into your family unit can be a positive and happy experience for everyone.

Think About Your Kids Point Of View

Introducing a new partner to your children will trigger a lot of emotions for them, which they won’t always explain to you. They have already dealt with your break-up and more change can be unsettling.

They may secretly be hoping that you and your ex will get back together one day. Seeing you start a new relationship will make them realize that’s unlikely. They might worry that you will love them less or that there won’t be room for them in your life any more.

Younger children, under 10 years old, may feel sad and confused. Children of any age can feel jealous, anxious, angry or threatened. They might perceive your new girlfriend as a rival for your attention and loyalty to their mother can make it difficult for them to immediately accept someone else into your lives.

Don’t punish them for bad behavior or acting out without fully understanding what’s behind it. Talk things through as much and as fully as you can and reassure them constantly. For some great communication tips, check out this piece of advice.

Take It Slowly When Introducing Your New Partner To Your Kids

One of the most important points when introducing a new partner to your children is to take things slowly. First of all, wait until you are certain that the relationship is a serious one. Don’t make the mistake of introducing your children to casual girlfriends; it will be unsettling for them to keep meeting new potential partners.

Keep your relationship to yourself for a while and see how things develop. Make sure that your new partner wants to become involved with your family. And ask yourself if you’re sure that she is likely to be a good fit for you all. You need to be unselfish here; don’t press ahead when you know, deep down, that a particular girlfriend isn’t going to be right for your children. If you’re not sure, introduce her to a couple of friends first and seek their honest opinion.

Talk It Over

Ideally the first person you should talk things over with will be your ex. Explain that you’ve met someone new and that you’d like the children to meet her at some point in the future. You don’t want your children to feel they have to keep something secret from their mother, particularly if it’s something they are likely to feel anxious about.

Try and discuss it calmly and listen to any fears your ex may have. Reassure her that you will take things slowly with the children and keep her updated on how they are dealing with it. Hopefully in return she will be able to give you honest feedback about how she feels they are coping.

As far as your children are concerned, introduce the idea gradually. Explain to them that you have a new girlfriend. Mention her from time to time and answer any questions they have. Then ask them if they’d like to meet her one day. If they’re resistant, leave it for a while, but continue to talk about her occasionally. Then ask them if they would come out with you and her. Let them choose the activity if possible, and do something fun, such as bowling, going on a picnic or to play at the park.

Keep The First Meeting Low-Key

Set a time limit for the first meeting. An hour or two is enough, even if everyone is having fun. In fact, leaving while things are going well makes it more likely that your children will want to go out with her again.

If she has children too, leave meeting them for another day. It’s fine for her to mention them, but introducing too many people all at once can feel quite chaotic and there’s a risk someone will feel overwhelmed or left out.

Make sure you do something casual and fun. A formal dinner where everyone has to sit still and behave well can be awkward and not particularly enjoyable. It’s better to let everyone get to know each other over a fun trip or while playing games at the park. Make sure things don’t get too competitive though, and look for signals that your children have had enough. Say goodbye to your new partner at the venue, avoiding physical contact at this stage, and go home with your children. This will allow them to relax and chat about her and what they thought on your journey home together.

Subsequent meetings should follow a similar pattern, building up to longer periods of time, but making sure you don’t overdo it. It’s important at this stage that your children look forward to the trips. Even if they’re not overly keen on being with your new partner, if they’re going to do something fun then hopefully they will still look forward to it.

For a few simple suggestions, check out this article on encouraging family bonding.

Listen To Your Children’s Concerns

Let your children talk freely about the new person in their lives and allow them to express exactly what they think, even if it’s not what you want to hear. If you tell them they’re wrong or tell them off, there’s a risk they’ll stop confiding in you.

Don’t ask them if they like her; it’s better to ask if they had fun and what they’d like to do next time. Ask them if they feel comfortable and safe with her but otherwise don’t fish for compliments.

Take on board what they’re saying and see if there’s anything you or your new girlfriend can do to help them adjust. Make sure they know that you’re considering their feelings and that they have input into the situation.

Remember, they may actively dislike her to start with. Trust and affection are built over time and they may have many concerns which aren’t immediately apparent to you. Don’t panic. As things progress they are likely to come to appreciate and accept her if you proceed kindly and thoughtfully.

Make sure you still spend as much quality time with your children as you did before. You don’t need to go out; time spent at home with them is fine, so long as you are focused on them and communicating with them. They need to know that your love for them hasn’t changed.

Bringing Your New Girlfriend Into Your Family Home

You’ve introduced your new girlfriend to your kids, now you’d like her to come to your home. Again, start slowly with this. A meal is an ideal first introduction with a brief play session before or after, depending on the age of the children. But keep it fairly short and once your girlfriend has left spend some quality time with your children so that they can chat over anything they want.

As things progress, visits can get longer, but stay sensitive to your children’s feelings and make sure they don’t feel invaded or pushed out. Even when your girlfriend is there, there should still be time for you and them to be together.

When you think your children are ready for your girlfriend to stay the night, talk things through with them first. Set ground rules with both them and her, such as locked doors, wearing appropriate clothing, privacy and time in the bathroom. Try hard not to embarrass anyone and keep displays of affection in front of your children to a minimum.

Going Forward

Hopefully your children will accept your new partner into your lives and come to enjoy her company. As things become more routine, make sure you discuss what is expected of everyone. For example, discipline when you’re not around and how much of a parenting role she will be taking on. It’s easier to set rules at the beginning before habits are established.

Summary

It can be a big ask for your children to allow someone new into their lives and at times it will be hard work for all concerned. Everyone will learn a little more about themselves during the process. With kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity, even difficult situations can resolve themselves and a family unit expanded to include one more.

Ultimately, for everyone to have someone else to love and be loved by is a wonderful thing. It really is worth the effort to add a new person to your family and learning to accept and like someone new will be a great attribute for your kids to have.

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